Aim for the Insurgent…


… and you just might hit the wedding party. A fascinating intellectual property rights dispute offers up a possible reason for the number of civilians killed by American drone strikes.

To quote from the article from The Register:

The dispute surrounds a location analysis software package – “Geospatial” – developed by a small company called Intelligent Integration Systems (IISi), which like Netezza is based in Massachusetts. IISi alleges that Netezza misled the CIA by saying that it could deliver the software on its new hardware, to a tight deadline.

When the software firm then refused to rush the job, it’s claimed, Netezza illegally and hastily reverse-engineered IISi’s code to deliver a version that produced locations inaccurate by up to 13 metres. Despite knowing about the miscalculations, the CIA accepted the software, court submissions indicate. [emphasis added]

The debate about drone strikes is of important to us here in India largely because a) India is working on a UAV project of our own, and b) They plan on deploying drones to fight the Maoists.

As the Register article makes clear, the aiming software is a mission critical aspect of a Unmanned Aerial Vehicle programme. Given that our penchant for reverse-engineering, Palika Bazaar anyone?

Also see:

12 thoughts on “Aim for the Insurgent…”

  1. Who bothers whether the drone hits at the target or misses it by 15 meters or 15 kilometers? The aim is only to kill, count the dead bodies and proclaim so many terrorists/talibans have been killed. Because dead men do not come up to tell whether they were terrorist or not and if a living one dares to tell the truth, there is the sedition law to silence him.


  2. UAVs are of many types, but primarily they are used for 1) surveillance and 2) targeted strikes (with “armed” UAVs)..the ONLY country with armed UAVs today is the US..

    Most importantly, the proposal to use UAV in Naxal-infested areas was purely for surveillance purposes, especially IED-detection..There has never been any proposal to use armed UAVs (which we anyway dont possess)..Only once in its history has India used offensive air power against domestic insurgency (Mizoram, 1967 – and the conditions were extenuous then)…Never before, and never ever after, not even in the worst days of J&K..The Air Chief went on record, and in some ways exceeded his brief by expressing his complete disagreement about using any offensive air equipment in the fight against Naxals..

    Its useful to educate oneself on the topic before imputing potential motives, no?


  3. Dear Somnath,
    thank you for summing up the links I had sent you.

    If you follow the links, you will realize that I have said that India is developing a drone –
    further, the second link says the existing UAV project shall be used for surveillance.

    Thirdly, even you know that the question of airstrikes is always one that is evaluated on a case-by-case/moment by moment basis.

    Further, there is a difference between dropping a 15000 lb daisy cutter in the heart of Dandakarayana, and firing a 100 lb hellfire missile at a car on a highway.

    I think you will increasingly see proponents of drone technology make the case that drone strikes are different from airs trikes and are more like mortar strikes used by light infantry – which the Indian government has not indicated its opposition to.

    For instance, if we had drones during the Mumbai attacks, I dont think anyone would have objected to them firing an ordinance into a hotel room window.

    At a more banal level, there is talk in the UK about using drones for routine law and order operations:

    Also, there is rise in the development of drone-specific munitions.

    Its useful to think twice before hurrying to appear smart and wowing us with your newspaper accumulated trivia, no?


    1. Dear Aman,

      For someone who comments on the impact of state actions on communities, your knowledge of the decision-making process, history as well as tools available with the Indian state is astonishingly supeficial..

      “even you know that the question of airstrikes is always one that is evaluated on a case-by-case/moment by moment basis.”

      Really? Someone told you that? Or you “think” it is that way? In reality, deployemtn of air power is a fundamental strategic decision, taken at the HIGHEST levels of the govt..It is not a tactical decision left to field commanders…That is precisely why it took nearly 2 weeks for the Air Force to be inducted even in a full-fledged war in Kargil…That is why even the decision on having a couple of armed commandos in IAF choppers flying logistical missions in Naxal areas had to be cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security, no less (with a limited mandate of firing in self defence to save the chopper and its passengers, no more)….

      “I think you will increasingly see proponents of drone technology make the case that drone strikes are different from airs trikes and are more like mortar strikes used by light infantry ”

      Again, you “think”? Have you checked with anyone in the decision making chain? For anyone to compare a std issue 120 mm (or 6 inch) mortar round to a Hellfire missile is a bit rich…Further, a hellfire, fired from a chopper, UAV, or combat aircraft, has the same impact..So anyone making that assertion has to be a bit empty between the years..

      Final gem..”For instance, if we had drones during the Mumbai attacks, I dont think anyone would have objected to them firing an ordinance into a hotel room window.”

      Any idea what the impact of a hellfire in an enclosedspace like the Taj will be? And do you know that the NSG has strict operational codes on using even hand grenades in hostage ops?Pls..

      finally, yes, all law enforcement agenceis are looking at UAVs today…99% of the applications are on surveillance, including the British effort your link talks about…India has 2 operational UAV platforms (Israeli Searrcher and Heron), and 2 funded projects (Nishant and Rustom)…There is a conceptual study for an armed UAV, but its not funded yet, and we are at least 10 years away from having an operational capability…

      To impute therefore that India is looking to deploy UAVs against naxals is bizarre..A chat with your “Hindu” colleagues, TS Subramanium (to me the best science journo in the country) and Praveen Swami will give you more light on the decision-making process and real capabilities available (and their history) – it would make your interventions a bit more credible..


      1. Dear Somnath,

        For someone who has mastered the art of demolishing strawmen, you appear to have outdone yourself.
        Lets calm down and take this step by step:

        I maintain that airstrikes are evaluated on a case-by-case basis – albeit by the “highest levels” of government, as you so vehemently put it. So, apart from using capital letters, I am unsure what point you have made. So, the decision for instance to use airstrikes in kargil and the northeast (as you had pointed out) versus not using airstrikes in Maoist conflict is a clear indication of a case by case analysis of when to use airstrikes and when not to. Am not sure why this statement has affected you so.

        Point two, If once more, you read what I have written: “Proponents of Drone technology” – which refers to people who make drones, people who advocate their use, the munitions industry. The argument being that “a drone strike is not an air strike. An air strike is a major strategic decision that requires HIGHESt levels (as you point out), but a drone strike is not such a big deal, think of it as a routine counterinsurgency operation”.

        Again: before you take off on this point – I am NOT saying that this is happening in India as we speak – I am talking about how a consensus is created and how the drone manufacturing industry is working towards creating such a market. And I am not advocating this argument – I am merely alerting readers to the existence of such and argument.

        Pakistan offers an interesting example where drone strikes are treated differently from an incursion of american helicopters into Pakistani airspace:

        Why? I dont have the answers, but possibly because drones slip through a conceptual/categorical loophole- where they pretend to be conventional weaponery. This does not mean that the pakistanis are happy with drone strikes – but the strikes are tolerated, but helicopters are not.

        Hellfire missiles: Have I advocated firing a hellfire missile into the Taj? no. again, I have said – an ordinance – which is a much broader term.
        I brought up the drone in the context of the mumbai attacks to indicate that a unmanned vehicle (NOT a predator in this instance) could offer surveillance and light weaponry on the outside of a 15th floor hotel window. The drone could flip in a smoke bomb if required.

        To address Vidyut’s point about starting off from a position of mistrust – I am arguing to the contrary – I am saying that the worry with drone strikes is that they appear deceptively simple, accurate and effective in their approach to warfare.

        Hence, the story I posted – which no one seems particularly interested in btw :) – is an interesting insight which destabilizes this idea of drones, suggesting that we might have armed robots waging war with faulty aiming software.

        If you read my post – I am not making a set of assumptions to say “India is headed to a drone driven apocalypse.” I am saying “America has a drone program – which appears to have serious problems.

        India is working on a drone program – these problems in america are something we should be cognizant of. I.e: we should keep a track on the arc of development of UAV technology.

        Cue someone saying: Indian drones are for surveillance only. YES for now yes, but is it inconceivable that we will not figure out how to arm them?
        Who told me that? No one told me that – it just makes sense that you would want to add capacity to your existing technologies.

        So calm down everyone .


  4. “For instance, if we had drones during the Mumbai attacks, I dont think anyone would have objected to them firing an ordinance into a hotel room window.”

    Despite this gun happiness, no grenades were tossed/fired into ‘hotel room windows’ because …. ?


  5. Lot of assumptions with no convincing argument as to why we need to worry about this. We are talking about American Armed UAVs. Will the Indians be using the same software? We don’t know. Likely not.

    Then, we extrapolate it to a situation where surveillance drones would be tempting upgrades to armed versions? Ooookay, not impossible to put a few missiles and enhance India’s armed capabilities and mostly, the pride of indigenous creation of them.

    Then, we are talking about them being used against Maoists and in situations where a margin of error will exist and will be overlooked even if there are other civilians around and that they will be managed/executed in a manner that causes collateral damage. Those are four big jumps.

    Ajit points out, no one tossed grenades into windows during 26/11. Though that could also be about heritage properties, international associations and media attention apart from civilian damage. Let’s face it, irresponsible use of ammo is tougher to risk or conceal in Mumbai than in the wilds.

    That said, call me evil, but I see nothing wrong with using armed drones if we can ensure efficiency and exercise restraint in the face of potential for civilian damage, which is essentially the beginning of this concern.

    Is there any basis or precedent for you to be presenting this as probable and a cause for worry? Is there a reason we should have a default stand of mistrust?


    1. “Ooookay, not impossible to put a few missiles and enhance India’s armed capabilities and mostly, the pride of indigenous creation of them.”

      Well, pride etc apart, developing a surveillance UAV is a very different art to mounting a “few missiles” on the same..Ask the Israelis, they are the leaders in the UAV tech, they would LOVE to have a few Predator/Reaper/Global Hawk clones…

      Lastly, in case the Indian govt took a decision to induct air power against Naxals, no need to wait for armed UAVs (at least 10 years away for us anyways), choppers would do fine…..


      1. On the bit about arming drones – Again, based on my reading and conversations with a few people who have been evaluating field trials of UAVs in Chhattisgarh.

        It isn’t impossible to have surveillance and “armed” drones built on the same broad platform. One example is the Turkish UAV programme.

        The TIHA is primarily a surveillance craft – and b/w surveillance aircraft also act as “target spotters” – ie provide information and coordinates for sites that can be attacked using other platforms – but that aside, to quote:

        the Turkish air force is interested in fielding the TIHA B, a larger version capable of carrying more than twice the payload (3.5 tons). This version, equipped with larger wings (20m wingspan) will be capable of carrying weapons, such as those developed by Roketsan, including laser guided rockets (CIRIT) and UMTAS Anti-Tank Missiles, both having a range of 8 km.

        As for Somnath’s point on Israeli drones not having weapons capabilities: an interested BBC article :

        Israeli drones unlawfully killed at least 29 Palestinian civilians during the Gaza conflict six months ago, the rights group Human Rights Watch says.

        but Somnath is right, in that :

        “Israel has a fleet of US and domestically manufactured drones but will neither confirm nor deny that they carry weapons.”

        What are some of the other claims that Israel neither confirm nor deny?
        “Officially Israel neither confirms nor denies possessing nuclear weapons.”

        Again, on the Israeli programme – we see that they have developed a massive new UAV that the Boston Globe calls the “Heron TP” capable of reaching Iran and carrying out “diverse missions”.

        As to choppers vs drones: again – Somnath, pls refer to previous comment on the issue of drones being a different category – which allows all govts to avoid the publicity and atmospherics of an airstrike, but allows them to achieve the same goals.

        BUT GUYS: WHY are we getting side tracked – does NO ONE find it interesting that there is a COPY RIGHT battle over the Predator’s aiming software and that the Predator might be running a Palika Bazaar version of the aiming software and this might be killing civilians?

        Come on guys, rally around – we better than playing “I know more about drones than you do” for endless rounds (of which i am, i suppose, partly guilty)


  6. Ok, vidyut, you are evil. And somnath, aren’t you in the wrong blog? Somebody with your astonishing military knowledge should really not be wandering around in the wilds with hicks like Kafila-ites who apparently can’t tell a drone from a dragonfly. Aman is vastly better informed than many of us in this I suspect, but apparently even he doesn’t live up to your standards. So why don’t you pick a fight at the HIGHEST levels, and leave us lowlies alone? Or are the HIGHEST levels – the PCs and Praveen Swamis and Subramaniums – too busy devising new military strategy to listen to you ? Awww.


  7. Gosh, no! Praveen Swamy? Everyone but all-knowing-Somnath seems to know he plants stories on behalf of intelligence agencies, especially the IB. How come he does not? But wait a minute, check this out Sunalini, this Somnath may also be an appointed PR agent for the same agencies! He may simply be doing his job. Why be so cruel to people trying to earn an honest livelihood?


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